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8/10
Endearing Documentary on a footballing 'Miracle'
22 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
'I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES' tells the remarkable story of Nottingham Forest FC and their catapulting into footballing folklore in the mid-late 1970's,thanks to arguably the most flamboyant,controversial yet charismatic and talented manager in English football history,the late Brian Clough,who took them to the height of success not just in England but Europe as well.

The movie starts when Clough's career was seemingly at the crossroads;after winning the English League Championship with Forest's East Midlands rivals Derby County in 1972,Clough departed along with his assistant Peter Taylor after a series of feuds with the club's directors,and after a brief and unsuccessful spell at Brighton and Hove Albion,rather surprisingly became manager at Leeds United,a club he had often fiercely criticised publicly,along with its manager Don Revie,who ironically hailed from the same industrial town as Clough himself,Middlesbrough.Equally unsurprisingly,Clough's tenure was short-lived in the light of such mutual hostility,and the fractious TV interview alongside Revie is perhaps an appropriate way for the film to begin,progressing from the ridiculous to the sublime.

By the beginning of 1975,Clough was appointed manager of Nottingham Forest,a club with past traditions in the FA Cup (having won the trophy twice),but not the sort you would expect to win League Championships,as indeed Derby were until they triumphed three years earlier;Derby themselves would go on to win the league at the end of that same season with a different manager (Dave Mackay),whereas Forest ended in mid- table mediocrity in the then second division and expected to remain so or even worse,Brian Clough or not.

However,the following two seasons saw a gradual improvement,to the extent that Forest won promotion to the first division,albeit narrowly in third place.Not much was expected of them in the new season,being made up of apparent footballing journeymen,cheap signings and unheralded also-rans,with such names as John McGovern,John Robertson,Martin O'Neill,Larry Lloyd,Kenny Burns and Tony Woodcock.Yet thanks to Clough's extraordinary skills of man-management and attractive football,he moulded them and others (most notably goalkeeper Peter Shilton) into a championship winning squad by the season's end,and even more astonishingly went on to win the European Cup two years in succession,acquiring the first million pound signing,Trevor Francis,along the way,who scored the winner in the 1979 final against Swedish club Malmo,in perhaps the least fashionable coda in the tournament's history.

The story seems woefully far-fetched to the uninitiated yet it did actually happen,and it is all likeably put together in a straightforward but efficient manner by director Jonny Owen,via pithy and amusing reminiscences by long retired players like Burns,Shilton,Lloyd and O'Neill interspersed with highlights of such heady days.The one who comes out of it best of all is Brian Clough himself,who could be both maddening and enchanting,belligerent yet charming,overtly confrontational but intensely articulate,and never remotely dull.

Inevitably,because director Owen keeps the story down to those remarkable years between 1977 and 1980,many aspects relating to this period and after are conveniently skipped over;the hooliganism that plagued English football at the time,his eventual acrimonious falling out with Taylor,his steady decline due to his alcohol problem and Forest's relegation in his final year in charge,plus allegations of financial misdeeds in his later years.But this was perhaps the right thing to do as the film intends to project a relentless feel-good factor,and it achieves it all very enjoyably with a warm glow by it's finish,helped on immeasurably by a Funk/Northern Soul soundtrack comprising of such tunes of the era which is very well judged and executed,adding to the purveying atmosphere of nostalgia.

In these days of billionaire benefactors and opulent signings of players from every corner of the globe,this is a timely reminder that the underdog can occasionally triumph against all the odds,thanks to team spirit,outstanding management and attractive football which is genuinely inspiring.And with the likes of an individual like Brian Clough no longer with us,it looked as though it would never happen again,yet barely six months after the film was released, Forest's East Midlands rivals Leicester City performed a footballing miracle of their own when they won the Premier League for the first time in their history with the affable,charming Italian Claudio Ranieri at the helm.But we can still celebrate and enjoy such victories in years past too with such a thoroughly endearing film as this.

Rating:8 out of 10.
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7/10
The screen's greatest pie fight in full
19 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Having heard that the long lost second reel of 'The Battle of The Century' was to be screened with the present extant footage after the former's recent rediscovery,it was an opportunity as a devoted L & H buff I simply could not turn down.So I waited with baited breath for the screening at the Southbank Centre,London,on October 16th 2015.

Hosts the BFI rather cleverly prepared for this very special occasion in both Laurel and Hardy and film history by showing three L & H silents (You're Darn Tootin',Double Whoopee,Big Business) with excellent live piano and flute accompaniment while we waited for the eagerly anticipated coda.It wasn't quite a full house,but nearly,and the disappointment of the still missing sequence where Eugene Palette sells The Boys an insurance policy was soon tempered by it's segue into the second reel (indicated in such terms by a brief subtitle).How exciting it was for me to see the first 'new' footage of Laurel and Hardy since previously lost films like 'Duck Soup' and 'Why Girls Love Sailors' became available on the home video market around two decades ago.

The found footage begins with the well-documented scene where Ollie tries to cause Stan an accident by throwing banana skins on to the pavement,only for a cop to slip onto the ground,with Ollie blaming Stan and getting hit on the head with the cop's truncheon,developing a massive bump on the head.The famous pie fight that starts soon after is far more carefully constructed than the previous extant version which had been edited by Robert Youngson for his compilation film 'The Golden Age of Comedy',and is perhaps all the better for it.Previously,after Charlie Hall had slipped on another of Ollie's banana peels,he retaliated immediately with a pie in Ollie's face,but the full version sees some initial comic business beforehand.We see several more combatants involved around the pie wagon compared to the previous footage,most surprisingly of all Eugene Palette,who reappears and states in as many words: "...you can't throw pies without proper insurance....." before promptly getting pies in the face himself from all kinds of angles!

There is one more notable variation where the pies hit their target;added to subjects like a postman handing soggy letters from a mailbox,a man getting hit by pie while being served pies and a dental patient getting a mouthful of pie,is a homely middle-aged woman getting her rug splattered by a pie while dusting it outdoors.The previous extant footage ended famously with Anita Garvin falling bottom first onto a pie thrown to the pavement by Stan,but the much vaunted final gag where a cop gets a pie in the face after asking The Boys who started the pie fight ("What pie fight?",replies Ollie) and chases them down the street is fully intact.

The whole programme was heartily appreciated by the audience,though perhaps the importance of the rediscovered footage of 'Battle' was not quite fully realised with the exception of myself and other fellow Sons of The Desert (the official Laurel and Hardy appreciation society) present in the large numbers there.When that second reel did start it was just total tunnel vision from my point of view,wide-eyed in virtual amazement like a small child but having to just concentrate on footage that has not been seen in this form for nearly 90 years.It was mightily hard to avoid being too awestruck,but after the most extraordinary evening regarding Laurel and Hardy for decades,my main wish later after discussions with equally astonished friends and colleagues is that this nearly complete version of 'Battle' deserves to be shown to more Sons,the public and indeed the World as Laurel and Hardy belong to us all.And the sooner the better.

Rating:7 and a half out of 10.
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Amy (III) (2015)
8/10
Moving but Harrowing Documentary on a gifted but fragile talent
24 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
'Amy', a documentary on the late British jazz/soul singer Amy Winehouse,is totally compelling and absorbing from first to last shot,though anyone with a human heart beating as I try would acknowledge it is very difficult and harrowing to watch.

Around a decade ago,I worked as a mobile DJ for three years,and in the midst of having to play prosaic,corporate and assembly-line produced music,Amy Winehouse was the one artist I had time for;her compositions and lyrics had a quirky,original style about them helped along by her husky,soulful voice.I don't think that 'Amy' is exploitative at all;it is actually very respectful if not reverent of her considerable talent,rare then and now in an era when individuals with the slightest smidgen of talent compared to her are absurdly hyped by PR agencies,trashy celeb mags and tabloids beyond their real worth.It would have been disingenuous if it had not looked into the full story of her deep problems with depression,bulimia and substance abuse.The break-up of her parents' marriage and their faults in nurturing had an undoubted effect;to be put on anti-depressants as she was in mid-adolescence was the first of many misguided decisions taken by those surrounding her or by the singer herself.

She wasn't interested in being famous as she thought she would not be able to handle such attention;singing jazz standards in small clubs would have been the ideal living for her.keeping a low profile from the limelight,but such was her talent that various managers,record execs and promoters promised her wealth and greater opportunities which she succumbed to.It was made obvious in the film that all those closest to her (with a few honourable exceptions) either didn't realise or care that Amy was a very vulnerable,troubled young woman,frail emotionally and physically,and by the time the damage had been done it was too late to save her.

Her father comes across as more misguided and foolish than nasty;her husband and various other seedy hangers-on like managers,promoters,paparazzi and the like are genuine villains however,using her status,talent and wealth for their own ruthless self-interest,indifferent to the negative effect it was having on Amy,who was too incredulous and naive to perceive how she was being exploited.The saddest scene of all was towards the end at a concert in Belgrade;clearly in no fit state to perform,all she could do was either put her arms round various colleagues and associates on stage or alternatively sit down and do nothing;with her being subject to boos and catcalls while at the eye of the storm was heartbreaking to watch,as indeed most of the film was;the brief moments of glory were saved at award ceremonies and while she performed her best known works in the recording studio,notably with her idol Tony Bennett,a genial,affable presence who in the end seemed to be more in awe of her than vice versa.

Perhaps it was unwise to show pictures of her in the worst stages of her drink and drug abuse;make-up horribly splattered across her face,later looking a skeletal,haunted wraith which were profoundly shocking.All in all,the film does not moralise or judge but leaves the viewer to make up their own conclusion;my own is that Amy would have been happy earning a modest living as a jazz/soul singer in equally modest clubs or venues,and that her considerable emotional problems from her teenage years were either ignored or disregarded by too many people around her,which in the end proved too much with her ravaged,frail body unable to cope.The story is nothing short of tragic,and Asif Kapadia has crafted a shattering but deeply moving documentary that dramatises the deep despair but also celebrates the talent of Amy Winehouse as fully and sincerely as possible.

RATING:8 out of 10.
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4/10
More unnecessary attacks against the 70's
28 November 2014
'It Was Alright in the 70's' was another smug,sneering look at a controversial decade with conveniently picked clips and partial commentators trying to tell us how more enlightened we all are now.

For every bit of dated sexism,racism and homophobia you would still get far more moments of classic drama,entertainment,documentary and comedy,predictably glossed over as good dramas,intelligent documentaries and outstanding comedy is very difficult to pick out from hundreds of channels in this day and age as we are saturated with wall-to-wall reality TV,incredulous celebrities,hackneyed dramas and soaps,sensationalist documentaries and mean-spirited,foul-mouthed comedians.

We should have had a programme on such modern cultural and TV retrograde steps accompanied by sneering critics as that would've been justified,and Dapper Laughs is a whole lot more sexist and offensive than Benny Hill was,plus he didn't imply jokes about rape,he 100% included it in one of his 'jokes' recently.Now that was a lot worse than what happened in the 70's,plus Big Brother,I'm a Celeb and TOWIE too.

All in all,a huge disappointment,save the archive clips from the period,one or two of which had not been broadcast before,even in the overtly non-PC 70's when the material was too strong even then (from the forgotten sitcom,'THE WACKERS' that is,featuring a young Alison Steadman and crumple-faced Joe Gladwin),and the performers of today that made such critical comments from shows and attitudes of the past should look at themselves once in a while to see if they are any superior (which in most cases,they certainly ain't).

RATING:3 and a half out of 10.
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7/10
A long-lost rarity,but now thankfully available
6 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
"INSOMNIA IS GOOD FOR YOU" was one of a number of short comedies Peter Sellers made in the 1950's before he became a major leading comic star first in the UK,then the US.Along with "DEARTH OF A SALESMAN",they apparently played as supports to main features for a brief time before vanishing without a trace.It wasn't until the mid-90's that the original prints were found,apparently in the office once occupied by the film company that produced them (Park Lane Films), firstly in a cupboard, then thrown later into a skip.Robert Farrow, who was working there at the time, took them home with him as his father was a home movie enthusiast, and he thought the film cans would be of use as storing the cine films he had. As time went on, it was obvious how important these finds were,yet many reputable media organisations showed no interest until 2013, when the Southend Film Festival, based in the town of Southend, Essex, England (where Robert resides), fully realised their importance to British if not World film history. The films were digitally restored and shown for the first time publicly in nearly 60 years at the main cinema in Southend on 1st May 2014 with some well known UK celebrities and members of Sellers' family also in attendance.

So,what of the films themselves? "COLD COMFORT" (which did exist but again had not been seen publicly for decades, also shown at the above event) and "DEARTH OF A SALESMAN" were mildly funny but watchable comedies in which the material was stretched a trifle thinly, but "INSOMNIA IS GOOD FOR YOU" was a minor gem, again perhaps slightly over-stretched, but with enough amusing incident to make you forget such minor deficiencies. All the films mentioned are basically just showcases for Sellers' immense comic talents, and "INSOMNIA" shows them off to their best with his remarkable ability at impersonation,voice and comedic characterisation, and verbal and visual humour. The story if it matters is about office worker Hector Dimwiddle (Sellers) finding difficulty sleeping and relaxing at home and in his spare time, which begins to affect his working week, accompanied by an amusing voice-over commentary. And that's about it, quite flimsy even for a half hour short film, but this is just about Sellers, basically being a series of comic sketches with a linking theme and no narrative, with the mostly colourless and unknown supporting cast (with the exception of the Viennese actor Eric Pohlmann, who appeared in many UK films from the 50's until the 70's) taking second place to Sellers' comic vignettes, some of which don't quite come off but many that do, sometimes hilariously with odd scattered moments of Goon-style surrealism.

The talent behind the camera showed that care and attention was being lavished despite the inevitably parsimonious budget;Leslie Arliss was a fairly prestigious British film writer/director at the time, having directed "THE WICKED LADY" and "THE MAN IN GREY" and worked more prolifically as a writer, including several comedy scripts co-written for Will Hay and George Formby, the latter experience probably standing him in good stead working here with Sellers, and writers Lewis Griefer (better known for his TV writing) and the distinguished Canadian-Jewish writer,author and essayist Mordecai Richler, best known for "THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ", here in the early stages of his career as apparently this was his first screenplay.

"INSOMNIA IS GOOD FOR YOU" thankfully does not induce somnambulism as it's title would suggest, but plenty of laughs and is just a excuse to see Peter Sellers do his thing, undiluted and unencumbered by any distractions of plot and padding, which is more than worth the price of admission, and it is a special joy to see these long forgotten routines of nearly six decades back here and the other films mentioned, but "INSOMNIA IS GOOD FOR YOU" shows his comic genius to best advantage, which will hopefully be seen around the World in the near future.

RATING:7 and a half out of 10.
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7/10
Gripping,Well-Detailed British 'B' Movie Thriller
7 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
In the glorious days of the 'support' features that accompanied the main film at the local cinema,a minor gem would occasionally appear throughout the morass of routine,mediocre dramas and thrillers.

"Tomorrow at Ten" is one of those diamonds that came out of the rough, overcoming it's low budget and modest production values with taut direction by Lance Comfort,a decent script,an interesting,well detailed plot and a fine cast.

The cool and ruthless Marlow (Robert Shaw) kidnaps the young son of a well to do widower (Alec Clunes) and leaves the boy at an isolated house with a golliwog that happens to have a time bomb inserted,and is programmed to blow up at 10am the following morning.It is left to a Police Detective (John Gregson) to see if he can break Marlow and find the boy in time.

The budget and production values are inevitably modest, and the addition of a golliwog into the storyline is decidedly non-PC in this day and age,but this is easily overcome by stylish handling and plotting,with a script that quite successfully reaches unexpected depths of exposition and character,with clashes between those coppers on the ground like Gregson and those like Alan Wheatley who are seemingly more interested in social climbing.Gregson's overall performance as the by-the-book Detective is actually quite muted,and the best performance comes from Robert Shaw as the villainous kidnapper Marlowe.The film was originally made in 1962,just a year before Shaw's star making turn as Donald 'Red' Grant in the James Bond film "From Russia With Love",where he played an even more ruthless villain.Shaw was never a conventional actor,whether playing the support or lead,and he manages to add shadings and nuances to a highly disreputable character here,even making him pitiable.There's solid support from such reliable actors as Wheatley,Clunes,Kenneth Cope and Ernest Clark,with decent cameos from William Hartnell and Renee Houston as Shaw's parents,set in a gloriously seedy and anachronistic nightclub,exactly the sort you would expect to see in British second features from this era.

"Tomorrow at Ten" now has something of a cultish reputation thanks to it's quirky,inventive style and a story that grips to the very end;such staples of the local cinema programme have sadly long since gone, but as this film proves,every now and then,they could provide as much if not more entertainment than the main feature.
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7/10
A Shameless Polemic,but a good one
17 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Ken Loach's THE SPIRIT OF '45 is one of his occasional forays into documentary,and a timely and prescient one,recalling the immediate period just after World War II had ended,with Britain for the very first time electing a majority government for the Labour Party,led by Clement Attlee,on a genuinely radical,socialist agenda,embracing nationalisation of most heavy industry,a welfare state,Keynesian economics,widespread council house building and perhaps most notably,the founding of the NHS.The British people appreciated Winston Churchill's efforts at leading the nation and defeating the Nazis during the war,but felt Attlee was the man to lead them during the early years of peace afterwards.

Loach has never been afraid to acknowledge his socialist leanings in public and on film,and this is a predictably affectionate,sometime sentimental tribute to the system he holds most dear,with interviews with various people from the era,housewives,miners,steelworkers,nurses among them and their experiences of pre-war poverty (some of them very moving),with more up to date opinions from dockers,academics and politicians.It is all relentlessly subjective,with no critical voices from other viewpoints in sight,and there are parts of the film which would've been helped by a more balanced outlook (it fails to acknowledge that the Conservatives broadly accepted these changes when they were in government in the next three decades),as Loach plunges the film into near,but not quite,hysterical tub-thumping,with any other political,social and economic opinions ignored or regarded as virtual evil.

This is more than evident in the latter stages of the film;Loach shoots forward in time three full decades to when Margaret Thatcher became Conservative PM in 1979,as important an election as that of 1945.After the various crises of the 70's,such as the oil shock,stagflation and industrial unrest,her dismantling of the post-war consensus,returning to pre-war free market economics,accepted by the Labour Party when they got into power,is predictably savaged,referring to the mid-80's miner's strike,deregulated banks and markets,sale of council houses and industries and utilities privatised across the board.

But now with the UK and much of the developed world in the worst recession since the war,mostly caused by the emphasis on free market economics and deregulated banks,perhaps a politically angry film like this should be seen,even if you don't necessarily agree with Loach's politics.Whatever you think of him,for or against,Loach is still a great filmmaker,and though some of the partisan views on show do sometimes become too excessive,it's good to see working class people,old,middle- aged and young,treated with more respect,dignity and compassion than has been the norm for around a decade or so on British film,TV and media in general,when crude if not offensive stereotyping and caricatures have mostly been the order of the day.

THE SPIRIT OF '45 is the kind of film that will take no prisoners,and if you are the total opposite in politics to Ken Loach,fire will be spat at the screen.But there is never a dull moment,and Loach's appeal for a more inclusive,equal and less divisive society,all but evident here,may be increasingly prescient in the midst of grim,interminable austerity,as was suffered in the 30's Depression after the credit-leaden excesses of the Roaring 20's.There maybe another change in economic outlook soon in modern times,as there was with THE SPIRIT OF '45,which Loach quite obviously would like to revive again.

RATING:7 out of 10.
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Proof (2005)
6/10
Stagey,unsatisfying adaptation of an award-winning Play
8 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
A big screen version of a Pulitzer Prize winning stage play,PROOF eventually all too obviously falls victim to it's theatrical origins and ends up as flat and unexceptional with little cinematic qualities.

A brilliant but ageing mathematician Robert (Anthony Hopkins), is looked after by his young daughter Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) through serious mental health problems until his death.Catherine has followed in her father's mathematical footsteps,and a former student of her father's,Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) thinks he may have found evidence of products of her father's work in various notebooks.Catherine's sister Claire (Hope Davis) arrives for the funeral,and begins to think her sister is showing signs of mental illness like their father,but it soon emerges that it may be Catherine and not Robert who is responsible for this academic breakthrough, according to further research by Hal in the various notebooks.But it may not be an easy task for her to persuade the University where her father taught and she sporadically attends,about such proof.

The operations of maths and mathematicians has not proved to be a particularly exciting subject in cinema, and PROOF is no exception to that rule.Like other titles such as GOOD WILL HUNTING,PI and A BEAUTIFUL MIND,there is a tendency to treat such characters as socially awkward,eccentric and mentally ill to beef up interest in the subject matter,though this veers into caricature and stereotyping.Director John Madden attempts to open up the stage original by way of actual Chicago locations,the addition of superfluous minor characters and some interesting camera movement,but the only really clever moments occur at the very beginning,with a semi-surrealist conversation between Hopkins and Paltrow which climaxes in a darkly amusing and adroit fashion,but there on in is afflicted by slabs of typically pretentious theatrical dialogue,unsympathetic characters and ill-cast actors.

The acting on show eventually becomes too strident and over-emphatic at the cost of naturalness;La Paltrow goes through all kinds of emotions like fear,hate,love,sadness,desire,aggression,spite and petulance,without making her mentally fragile character likable or endearing,sometimes dissolving into theatrical histrionics which do not expose themselves well on the big screen.She clearly seems to be trying for another Oscar here as she won several years previously with Madden in Shakespeare IN LOVE,but in the event only received a Golden Globe nomination (which she lost to Felicity Huffman), and tries rather too hard and not too subtly in doing so.Hopkins does not appear that much but performs in his familiar post-Hannibal mode of speaking quietly one moment then bellowing out explosively the next, while Gyllenhall is ineffectual and whiny as Gwynnie's would-be suitor and fellow maths geek.The three principals don't really convince as maths devotees,and there is very little detail of the equations involved,which makes such emoting even less believable.The less academically-inclined main character, played by Davis, actually comes across as the most personable despite some brusque,neurotic,avaricious aspects,and wants to genuinely help her troubled sister.

But PROOF's main problem is that the story is not particularly interesting or edifying,a bit like mathematics itself as most of the really important discoveries and revelations on the subject were made thousands of years ago (mainly in Ancient Greece), and any that are made in the modern era come across as slight amendments that cause barely a flicker of interest in the media or the general public.Gwyneth Paltrow has also appeared in the stage version,and that's where it basically belongs,as PROOF is essentially a theatrical and not cinematic experience.

RATING:5 and a half out of 10.
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Edge (2010)
6/10
Rather Gloomy but Watchable multi-story Drama
29 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
EDGE was made before Carol Morley's critically lauded drama-documentary DREAMS OF A LIFE and released several months afterwards,and although it's not as good,it's still a amiable minor drama,though more notable for it's convincingly created mood of isolation and misery than it's over familiar plot and situations.

A number of individuals (Maxine Peake,Majorie Yates,Nichola Burley,Joe Dempsie) converge on an isolated and somewhat dilapidated hotel on England's South Coast in midwinter,which sums up their own relative moods of despair,loneliness and misery.A musician who hangs around the hotel (Paul Hilton),strikes up a relationship with a reluctant Elly (Peake),and we gradually find out the reasons why all the characters involved have decided to reside at such a downbeat hovel.

The stories themselves are not especially interesting,as the characters themselves either,but is salvaged by decent performances by Hilton,Ms Peake,Ms Yates and others,generally as understated as the stories and revelations that take place in a portmanteau style,which do not create excitement or anything particularly startling,with a rather obviously contrived tying up of loose ends at the film's climax.

EDGE's best element is it's mood and atmosphere,deliberately glum and downcast,well handled by director Morley with some welcome moments of wry,black humour.The co-ordinations of the dismal hotel rooms,lobby and restaurant contrast effectively with the bleak beauty of the snow-leaden outdoors and cliff side location,containing some striking,near dreamlike imagery.If only the script and plot had showed a little more inventiveness and variation,this could have shown the same resonance and emotion as the superior DREAMS OF A LIFE gave us on a similar theme;unfortunately in EDGE's case,it often leads to lethargy,aridness and dullness with little being said or done and Pinterish pauses that signify little.And the limitations of the low budget show,the feeling of claustrophobia and it's blank location becoming wearing and often repetitive.

However,EDGE is a reasonably edifying drama,held together by it's cast,well controlled mood and occasionally striking imagery.Carol Morley is a talented director,making EDGE better than it seems despite it's undernourished and sometimes pedestrian plot and script,a talent that came to greater reward in her following effort,the outstanding DREAMS OF A LIFE.

RATING:6 and a half out of 10.
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King Creole (1958)
7/10
Probably The King's Best
22 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
That Elvis Presley's film career gradually petered out after years of making trivial,hackneyed,fluffy and empty-headed movies is to be regretted,yet in several early films (JAILHOUSE ROCK,FLAMING STAR),he showed he could give a perfectly decent acting performance alongside good scripts,directors and actors.It is arguable that KING CREOLE was his best overall film,and perhaps his most effective big screen performance.

Disillusioned youth Danny Fisher (Presley) lives in New Orleans' French Quarter with his recently widowed father (Dean Jagger) and sister (Jan Shepard).His pharmacist father is finding it tough to cope without his wife and cannot find regular work,while Danny flunks his college studies to work in a nightclub owned by sleazy crook Maxie Fields (Walter Matthau), and begins to take romantic interest in a boozy if pitiable tramp,Ronnie,used by Fields as a mistress (Carolyn Jones).He toys with joining a gang of hoodlums led by Shark (Vic Morrow),and attracts the attentions of a sweet-natured shopgirl,Nellie (Dolores Hart).With his talent for singing,Danny decides not to work in Fields' venues,but of his rival Charlie LeGrand instead,the King Creole,where he is a great success.Fields resents Danny's behaviour and is determined fair ways or foul to force Danny to work for him,but Danny will make his own decisions who he works and falls in love with.

Elvis Presley had some good scripts offered in his earlier film career like the above fore-mentioned,and KING CREOLE was possibly the best of them.He not only had a good script and story but a top-class producer (Hal B.Wallis),legendary director (Michael Curtiz),fine actors (Matthau,Jones,Jagger,Morrow,Paul Stewart),accomplished cameraman (Russell Harlan),good production and musical numbers too.Presley is very good as the mean,moody but sympathetic youth veering from delinquency to hard work,recalling the ambiance of a younger Marlon Brando or James Dean.He is well supported by Ms Jones,making her somewhat trashy character into a three-dimensional,tragic near-heroine,Matthau as the crooked nightclub operator,Jagger as his vulnerable father,Morrow as a streetwise thug,and Hart,Shepard and Stewart doing efficiently in minor but interesting roles.Wallis and Curtiz of course worked together on one the all-time greats CASABLANCA (1942),and although KING CREOLE is nowhere in that class,a certain moody,smoky atmosphere like the Bogart/Bergman classic is successfully evoked by Harlan's shadowy,noir-like lighting and angles in scenes set in the French Quarter and clubs,and is immeasurably helped by some high quality songs such as the haunting opener 'Crawfish' (where Elvis sings in a duet),'Trouble','Dixieland Rock','Hard Headed Woman' and of course the peerless title track.Occasionally,there are one or two uncomfortable dramatic moments that Presley struggles with,and the film is somewhat overlong,but KING CREOLE is generally a fine crime drama with musical and noirish elements well handled by the master of versatility Curtiz.

Pre-1961,The King made a number of fine films like this,but under the influence of Colonel Tom Parker,he was forced into garishly coloured and obviously contrived entertainments which utilised the same banal plots,dull and repetitive scripts,uninspiring actors and ageing or mediocre directors which caused Presley to call a halt on his film career by the end of the 60's.Had he managed to work with the kind of script,story and crew he collaborated with on KING CREOLE,who knows how better his tarnished reputation on movies would've been;as it is,we can be grateful that KING CREOLE shows us how good Elvis was with such top technical and artistic backing,and how better he may have become as a screen actor.
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Deep End (1970)
7/10
Idosyncratic but Interesting coming-of-age Drama
7 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
For many years a somewhat obscure and unseen semi-avant garde melodrama,DEEP END has had a recent revival in digitally restored fashion in cinema,DVD and television,and has an undercurrent of strangeness running through it's entire oeuvre.Set in post-swinging 60's London,but an American/West German co-production directed by Polish-born Jerzy Skolimowski mostly filmed in Germany,with an eclectic cast and musical score,a dubious story and related characters.This overall oddness does not necessarily equate to greatness,but DEEP END still nevertheless manages to hold the attention throughout.

A decidedly gauche,awkward 15 year old youth,Mike (John Moulder-Brown) starts his first job at a grimy,dilapidated London municipal bathhouse,and falls in love with a beautiful but uninhibited female co-worker,Susan (Jane Asher),a few years older than him.Susan is apparently engaged but uses and exploits other males for her own pleasure,including the hapless Mike himself.The attraction gradually seems to become more mutual,if dangerous.

Coming at the end of the optimistic,happy-go-lucky 60's and populated with rather unlikable characters,DEEP END is packed with so much symbolism as to be in peril from drowning in it.The setting of the seedy,crumbling bathhouse is an obvious metaphor for being literally thrown into the deep rather than shallow end of life,with the related problems,frustrations and behaviour on show signifying this.For a while,DEEP END comes across as a familiar but wispily charming essay on the pains of growing up,with an amusing cameo from Diana Dors (who became a better actress as she got into early middle-age),holding Mike to her bosom while mumbling platitudes about football,though it's not long before it all becomes progressively darker,with dubious behaviour from a male swimming instructor (who Susan has a dalliance with) towards young female students,and an increasingly unhealthy relationship between Mike,so wet behind the ears as to be soaking,and the voluptuous Susan.

Moulder-Brown is fine as the hopelessly naive adolescent,though as with many teens his character's behaviour and traits often becomes very irritating,while Ms Asher is convincing as his and other males object of desire,outrageously sexy and knowing it,teasing and cajoling as many males as she can muster,mostly for her own entertainment and amusement in the skimpiest clothing imaginable.

With all this symbolism (such as Mike stealing a cardboard life size poster of Susan from London's underground) and semi-Freudian obsession,DEEP END has little in the way of plot,and much of the cast are not British but mainland European (mainly German).This sometimes gets in the way of authenticity for the more pessimistic mood of late 60's/early 70's London (not surprising as much of the film was apparently filmed in Munich),and Skolimowski often seems not to have an ear for the English language,with some scenes allowed to ramble with somewhat stilted dubbed and non-dubbed dialogue.There is much use of hand-held camera and other scenes which have an improvised feel,which is not necessarily a bad thing as said moments have a more spontaneous,humorous and natural feel to them.

Such locations as the bathhouse and Soho (which features a funny cameo from Burt Kwouk) add to a sense of decline and seediness while observing the dubious behaviour of the main and secondary characters involved,which inevitably leads to the climax in the swimming pool,with the symbolism at it's height as it being empty and drained of water,but there is a twist in store.....

With it's dreary,seedy setting and unsympathetic characters,DEEP END could have been utterly disposable,yet it's very style deem it oddly compulsive and curiously watchable,with it's best moments reserved for it's finale with haunting and extraordinary imagery that linger in the mind long afterwards,confirming it's reputation of being a bizarre,rediscovered cult classic.

RATING:7 out of 10.
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Eden Lake (2008)
5/10
Well-Mounted but predictable and eventually unpleasant Horror-Thriller
2 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
EDEN LAKE is a basic retread of earlier horror-thriller movies,it's basic plot and incident not markedly different from such previous and superior titles such as STRAW DOGS (1971),DELIVERANCE (1972) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977),although this time with an over-plus of ugly,sadistic violence.

A pleasant middle-class couple (Michael Fassbender,Kelly Reilly) intend to have a short break in a seemingly quiet rural backwater,though it is increasingly disrupted and ruined by a group of unruly teenagers,led by Brett (Jack O'Connell).The disputes become more fractious and nasty,eventually leading to outright violence and bloody confrontation,with little hope for any redemption for either side.

We are in over-familiar territory here,with decent people merely trying to enjoy a quiet break being tormented and brutalised by rustic,backward rural types.Director James Watkins marshals the events in technically adept and slick fashion,though it becomes more and more dubious the longer it goes on,with improbable plot complications,underwritten characterisations,but worst of all an indulgence in some exceptionally gruesome and unpleasant violence,which eventually goes so over-the-top as to distill much of the thrills and tension,with being sickened taking precedent,especially in the very nasty torture scenes.

The main actors involved are adequate,but their characters are mostly ciphers if not stereotypes,taking second place to the sadism on show.Some reviewers thought Watkins was playing on the fears of the British middle-class of a so-called feral chav underclass,fodder for numerous UK tabloid newspapers for many years,in their interpretation of 'Broken Britain'.This indeed maybe a fair point,as those from middle-class occupations as portrayed here as the hapless,tortured and innocent victims,where the working-class are just evil,sub-human,violence-loving Neanderthals,with no redeeming features whatsoever.There have been increasingly negative representations of the working classes in UK film,TV and media for some time now,and this film does not help such crude stereotyping.Reilly and Fassbender are actually not that likable in any case and rather stupid in aspects of their behaviour which is not very believable,and O'Connell,as Brett, the leader of the teenage gang,is the only really psychotic and brutal member who encourages his mates to join in with the bloody attacks on the couple.The only remotely sympathetic character on show is Cooper,played well by Thomas Turgoose,who is very reluctant to join in with the violence until he gives in to the intimidation from the sadistic Brett.Turgoose doesn't appear much in the film at all but still manages to bring some nuances of character if not humanity despite it not being evident in the role as scripted,and when he gets his in savage fashion from a terrified Ms Reilly,it is the only time in the film we feel a tinge of compassion for anyone in the midst of all the mayhem.

EDEN LAKE could have been a more gripping and exciting horror-thriller,but in the end it just falls into the trap of showing violence for the sake of and eventually too much of it,leaving the viewer repelled rather than thrilled,not bringing anything original or inventive to it's oft-told story,and relying on characterisations and stereotypes that are becoming all too regular if not offensive in this present day and age;EDEN LAKE succeeds in being disturbing,but also troubling towards certain social groups,which maybe an even greater cause for concern.

RATING:5 out of 10.
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8/10
Rough-edged but remarkable Social-Realist rediscovery
29 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
KILLER OF SHEEP was a coursework film made by UCLA student Charles Burnett, born in America's South but living in Los Angeles' Watts area for most of his early life as numerous other Southern-born African-Americans migrated to.It wasn't intended for commercial release,but taken on and restored for major distribution over three decades later,it has emerged as a rediscovered classic and is now regarded as a superior example of poetic neo-realism.

There is very little plot in KILLER OF SHEEP and no conventional narrative,just various interconnected vignettes of humble abattoir worker Stan (Henry G. Sanders) and his family,friends and associates.

With no major actors in the cast,indeed mostly amateurs and non-professionals,filmed in grainy black and white on 16mm film,with live recorded dialogue and background noises,this could've quite easily turned into a dreary,pretentious plod on familiar avant-garde film student lines with little general appeal to but a few sparse people,and the film does occasionally ramble pointlessly.Yet Burnett incredibly makes the experience thoroughly endearing,moving and funny,treating the Black population of Watts with dignity and compassion.

The main view of African-American cinemas at the time was of Blaxploitation,with various dudes,trouble men and women cutting a swathe through their enemies and rivals with as much no-nonsense violence as could be mustered.Aside from a brief conversation with two neighbourhood bad boys (which ends in criticism,not bloodshed), KILLER OF SHEEP admirably portrays the drab but honourable life of the working and lower classes of Watts, of people who will never reach or aspire to great heights but simply want to get on with life as best they can.As the main character Stan,Sanders is very impressive as a downtrodden abattoir worker,not liking his job but providing an income for his family and making attempts to enjoy himself in his free time with them and friends which usually end in failure,but despite this he keeps on working,never showing any signs of violence or aggression to anyone,as was often the stereotype of African-American characters in early-mid 70's American cinema.

Despite the absence of plot and narrative,Burnett brings the minor details of urban life in so many memorable moments;the neighbourhood kids playing around train lines and backyards;Stan's wife (Kaycee Moore) doing her hair not in a mirror but a saucepan lid;children on roofs jumping from one apartment block to the next;Stan attempting to construct a car together with various friends so they can have a day out,which is eventually thwarted by a flat tyre.But most memorable are the choices of music that Burnett utilises on the soundtrack.There are a few classical and modern soul tracks,but he mostly features old Blues numbers from greats like Paul Robeson,Lowell Fulson and Dinah Washington.Perhaps the film's highlight is Stan and wife's slow,sensual dance to "This Bitter Earth",trying to bring a spark of passion back into their declining relationship.The frequent scenes of doomed sheep in the abattoir may be a rather obvious metaphor to Stan's family and friends,but Burnett rather cleverly always has music playing over the soundtrack in these scenes,almost as a mark of respect for Stan and his workmates for the tough if not harrowing way he has to earn a living.Such choices of music give the film an impressionist,poetic charm that elevates the dull,soul-destroying lives into a touching and life-affirming story of decent,ordinary people we rarely see,both past and present.The film appropriately ends with Stan doing another shift at work,keep on keeping on as best he can.

Despite some poor technical quality regarding sound and vision, and some variable,naive acting,this in fact adds to the rough-edged charm and effectiveness of KILLER OF SHEEP,a first-class essay in semi-documentary neo-realist film making which millions of people can identify and empathise with,proving you don't need glamorous stars,a high budget,elaborate special effects or vast length for a memorable film,which may not make innumerable millions for large corporate studios but has enough little visual and verbal touches that will live in the psyche with those fortunate enough to have watched KILLER OF SHEEP.

RATING:7 1/2 out of 10.
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Mona Lisa (1986)
7/10
Occasionally dubious but mostly compelling crime drama with a great leading performance
13 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
A crime drama showing the seamy (often very seamy) side of London's underworld,MONA LISA is a sometimes flawed but mainly absorbing mid-80's British pic with an outstanding performance at it's centre from Bob Hoskins.

A newly released con,George (Hoskins) has taken the rap for his former boss,Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine) by doing seven years inside.An attempted reunion with his wife fails miserably, though he keeps in contact with his teenage daughter, and Mortwell gets him work as a driver for a high-class prostitute Simone (Cathy Tyson) whom George soon falls in love with.Simone's response is more measured,and she asks him if he can find and trace a younger prostitute whom she befriended,Cathy (Kate Hardie),with the unpleasant intentions of Mortwell and her sadistic pimp (Clarke Peters) always a continuing threat.

MONA LISA has some decidedly sordid aspects in it's plot and content, with Mortwell having no scruples in procuring clearly underage girls (usually drug-addicted) to wealthy and perverted elderly clients, requesting George gets photos of Simone's clients in compromising positions (for obvious blackmailing purposes), and hanging around the seediest bars and sleaziest strip joints.This material quite easily could have tipped over the top and into sensationalism,but Neil Jordan's admirably understated and atmospheric direction thankfully prevents it from doing so,with apposite cinematography in murky,desaturated tones effectively lensed by Roger Pratt,capturing the sense of gloom and melancholy perfectly.

The film's main flaw are scenes involving George and his mechanic friend Thomas (Robbie Coltrane) who he lodges with.Presumably intended as light relief and further explanations of the plot, they merely come across as irrelevant and superfluous and cause lapses in the skillful mood and atmosphere Jordan creates in the crux of the film around the red light district of King's Cross and Soho,and swankier hotels in contrast.This was the mid-80's era of expanding free market ethics and Yuppiedom,but there's little indication of this in MONA LISA,perhaps emphasising an essential soulessness to the period's outlook, with a predictably miserable image of a dank,chilly English seaside in Brighton.

There's a basic unlikability to all the characters on view,yet Hoskins makes his character wholly sympathetic,as we travel with him into a world he is increasingly horrified and repelled by,and seemingly attempts to prise away those caught in such a labyrinth of unending nastiness and seediness.His love for Ms Tyson is genuinely touching,adding complex layers to a character that is on the face of it bullish and intimidating,yet deep down very caring,protective if even compassionate,with a heartbreaking revelation that the love is not requited.Much of the film resembles TAXI DRIVER in this sense,though Hoskins' George is a rather more mentally stable hero than Robert De Niro's anti-heroic Travis,with MONA LISA's violent climax not of his making.

There's fine support from Caine as the evil Mortwell,and a often touching portrayal by Cathy Tyson who struggles to keep her senses in the midst of the violence and perversity she is tragically subject to.But this is Hoskins' film all the way,with his memorable performance than even has tinges of humour helping to take the edge of the often questionable material and subject matter at hand,and with the help of Jordan's careful direction (barring the unnecessary scenes with Coltrane),making MONA LISA one of the better British films of the mid-80's.

RATING:7 1/2 out of 10.
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7/10
Wordy but interesting and intelligent comedy-drama
8 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
An adaptation of the play ''Dr Praetorius'',PEOPLE WILL TALK is basically an excuse for writer-director Joseph Mankiewicz to show off his undoubted skill for dialogue and to make various points about political,moral and ethical hypocrisy.Mankiewicz achieves this all very well in general,though somewhat at the cost of actual cinematic quality.

Dr Noah Praetorius (Cary Grant),an unorthodox but effective physician who teaches at a medical school,has a misconduct charge brought against him by a somewhat envious and pompous colleague,Professor Elwell (Hume Cronyn).He also falls in love with a young woman who occasionally attends the school (Jeanne Crain), who is expecting an out-of-wedlock child by a young man who has sadly died while serving in the Korean war,and Shunderson (Finlay Currie) a frequent and rather mysterious companion and associate of Praetorius, also arouses further suspicion.

Made during the era of McCarthyism at it's height,Joseph Mankiewicz was no supporter of the relentless anti-communist campaign of the time,and intelligently if not too subtly makes this point (among various others) with Cary Grant declining to clear his own name by revealing details of his colleague Finlay Currie's private affairs (which prove to be very serious) during the medical hearing.Grant as usual is excellent and convincing in the lead role,veering from a cynical,highly educated medical professional to compassionate,sensitive,non-judgmental advocate to starry-eyed romantic.Jeanne Crain is effective too as his future bride scarred by unfortunate circumstance (the unmarried mother to-be hitching up with a man who isn't the father may have been a deliberate sop to the Production Code of the time),as is Walter Slezak as a supportive colleague, Hume Cronyn in his familiar guise as a prissy,unlikable,moralistic busy-body,and Finlay Currie as a former jailed convict with whom Grant took pity on after various personal tragedies (though his accent seems a curious hybrid of his native Scottish and half-hearted Irish and American).

Grant's Praetorius is part of the academic and professional establishment but somehow wholly detached from it,rebelling against the various prejudices as what would be expected from his superiors towards hapless and lower status individuals like Crain and Currie who he befriends much to the chagrin of moral arbiters like Cronyn.These are liberal attitudes with a capital L,and Mankiewicz dramatises it all with great style with much literate,witty and thoughtful writing,taking critical potshots at the political and moral atmosphere of the time.The main problem with PEOPLE WILL TALK is as is suggested by the film's title.It is very apposite as the verbosity from virtually everyone (except from Currie until near the end of the film) sometimes becomes rather wearisome and taxing,and although Mankiewicz was undeniably a great writer,he was by no means as impressive a director,with the film's original theatre origins becoming obvious through mostly flat,uninspired,static handling and slow pacing.

Still,despite the dialogue-heavy (or maybe because of it) script, PEOPLE WILL TALK is an entertaining piece about an unconventional and rebellious hero from the academia, and made in a period when such characters were easily dismissed from such lofty positions for daring to show such insubordination (as many actors,writers,directors,etc. from Hollywood were in this period).

RATING:7 out of 10.
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Jitterbugs (1943)
6/10
Below-par but passable Wartime L & H comedy
7 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
One of a declining number of features Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy made in the 1940's after they departed the Hal Roach Studios at the beginning of the decade,JITTERBUGS has the reputation of maybe being the best of a disposable bunch made at 20th CENTURY FOX and M-G-M.This actually isn't saying that much,and the film has many flaws that plagued the other films in this period that brought an end to their film careers.But there are somewhat more positive aspects that touch it up a notch or two above the other misconceived and misjudged efforts of these later years despite still being affected by numerous disadvantages.

Travelling musicians Stan and Ollie steam up with a devious but likable conman (Robert Bailey) to help a young woman (Vivian Blaine) whose Aunt was fleeced out of $10,000 by various other shysters. Stan and Ollie don disguises as part of the plan,though they have to wary of their own safety along the way.

The main problem with JITTERBUGS is the excess of plot complications and sub-stories plus various transient characters that don't just add a sense of disarrangement but provide little chance for any characteristic L & H humour throughout it's running time.We only get a sense of this in the opening few minutes or so with scenes of the boys on a isolated desert highway,but even here (as was evident in virtually all of their later films),the dialogue and behaviour is not particularly appropriate for their long established naive,lovable characters.

Thereafter,with the appearance of conman Robert Bailey,his would-be girl Vivian Blaine and other types,Stan and Ollie often seem incidental to the plot and the numerous other characters that turn up.As has been mentioned before,it's main saving grace is to see the boys enact different characterisations.Ollie is enjoyable as a wealthy Texas landowner,Colonel Wattison Bixby,as a Southern states gentleman-type very close to his own upbringing,as is Stan as a fluttery and equally wealthy maiden Aunt,convincingly and amusingly in drag,employing the upper-class accent he used in A CHUMP AT OXFORD and flirtatious manner in ANOTHER FINE MESS.Ollie's scenes with Lee Patrick in his impersonation work surprisingly well,which features somewhat better supporting performances from such performers as Ms Patrick,Douglas Fowley,Noel Madison (who appeared in a similar Gangsterish role with the boys in OUR RELATIONS seven years earlier) and Robert Emmett Keane than was usually the case in these later films.

This was Mal St.Clair's first film with the boys and his direction is fast and slick,helping to paper over the cracks of a less-than efficient script by Scott Darling,which was also a showcase for the up and coming starlet Vivian Blaine.She is a somewhat lightweight but pleasing presence,and the film is also helped by decent production values and a respected cameraman (Lucien Andriot), giving the film a more attractive and polished look.

Though hardly vintage L & H,JITTERBUGS has enough good scenes to rate it alongside THE BULLFIGHTERS as the more tolerable of their post-Roach features,with both comedians looking generally more assured and confident with at least some decent material to work with than was the unfortunate case with most of their later work.JITTERBUGS is still flawed but enjoyable,with Laurel and Hardy's talent still managing to extract some laughs and overcome a plot and script that was far from perfect.

RATING:6 out of 10.
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8/10
Haunting,Compelling and Deeply Moving Drama Documentary
17 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Through interviews and reconstructions,DREAMS OF A LIFE tells the tragic story of Joyce Carole Vincent,who died alone apparently in her North London bedsit in December 2003 surrounded by unopened Christmas presents,but was not discovered until 2006,when bailiffs entered the property,finding her decomposed remains with the TV still switched on.

When it was initially reported by the UK press,there were little details of her life and no photographs published.Filmmaker Carole Morley read about the story,and began to place adverts in local newspapers asking who knew her, and try and build Joyce's life story and to why it ended so tragically.

It took many years for all the pieces to come together,and eventually,various friends,work colleagues and partners came forward, and with their recollections and memories paint a portrait of a vivacious,beautiful,sociable but troubled and reticent young woman who could be the life of any party, yet always seemed to hold herself back from commitment to marriage,work or habitats.There are moments of humour but this is essentially a very sad story,with as many questions unanswered as answered.None of Joyce's remaining close family are present, this being her four sisters.Her mother died when she was only 11, and her father was a transient presence in her childhood, seemingly more interested in carousing and womanising and explaining her mother's death in a flippant,insensitive manner.

Her adult life parallelled that of her Father's in being nomadic and unsettled, with her first serious boyfriend Martin being no oil painting (as he admitted) but thoroughly decent and personable nonetheless, though with her exotic Indian/Afro-Caribeaan good looks always attracting attention from men,sometimes appreciated,often unwanted,made her a difficult woman to keep, and in the end, there was a parting of the waves.

An attempt at becoming a soul singer failed, though this led her to another partner, who was involved in the music industry and didn't care much for her singing but cared very much for her as a person. This relationship broke down,as did another attempt with Martin, and after boarding with a succession of friends, she ended up in a modest bedsit (with unsubstantiated rumours that she was attacked by another partner), unable to conquer various personal problems and bad memories, her death shrouded in as much mystery and contradictions as her short life brought.

The film itself is as much as a detective story as a biography of a seemingly unremarkable life, and significantly none of Joyce's family take part in the interviews.It could have been the case that the reconstructions, perhaps mostly speculative, could have been an unnecessary distraction and ill-judged, yet thanks to sensitive handling, are very touching if not poetic, and acted with considerable style by Zawe Ashton, almost totally voiceless except for a few moments of singing, portraying Joyce through body and facial expression with total conviction.This is all very well juxtaposed with the interviewees thoughts involved, never lapsing into mawkishness or sentiment. And if even the most stone-hearted of you don't go misty-eyed when Joyce (as played by Ms Ashton) part-sings/mimes a particular soul ballad into a hair brush, you are not human.

DREAMS OF A LIFE should be a lesson to us all, to contact family, loved ones or friends if absent for a while, just to see if all is OK.How come that a woman with so much to live for died in one of the World's biggest metropolises with no-one noticing for nearly three years? Is that sense of community gone now because of greater selfishness in our more dehumanised,materially-obsessed World? Could such a dreadful event occur again? Such questions linger in the mind long after seeing the film, which is totally compelling and absorbing from first to last shot, and although a few scenes look a trifle misguided, perhaps due to the modest budget involved, Carole Morley has produced a wholly memorable and deeply touching film with the right amount of dignity and respect towards it's subject.Joyce Vincent passed away in very distressing and tragic circumstances, but DREAMS OF A LIFE is a fitting tribute to a young woman who was liked and loved by so many but perhaps no one ever fully knew.

RATING:8 and a half out of 10.
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Theatre 625: The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968)
Season 5, Episode 25
7/10
Flawed but Fascinating Prophetic Satire
21 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
When it was first broadcast in 1968,THE YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS was just regarded as another of accomplished TV playwright Nigel Kneale's imaginative sci-fi dramas,this time about television itself.'It couldn't possibly happen' was perhaps the main reaction at the time,but Kneale's somewhat grim prediction for the future direction of the medium (headed by the opening subtitle "Sooner Than You Think") has more or less come true,which has enhanced it's importance since it was produced over four decades ago,and though it's overall quality is uneven,the extraordinary prescience of Kneale's ideas eventually win the day.

Set in a future where the so-called high-drives (the TV producers,as represented by Leonard Rossiter and Brian Cox) subdue the low-drives (the TV viewers) into indifference and lethargy by broadcasting lowest common denominator programming involving pornography and crude slapstick, weaning them off sex and food.Managing to watch an uninterested public via CCTV,the low-drives greatest reaction is when a young technical crewman is killed in a fall,which provokes much laughter.One high-drive suggests the idea for another show where he,his ex-partner and young daughter attempt to live in primitive fashion on an isolated island.His colleagues agree with him,yet without his knowledge plant a violent,unstable criminal there as well to spice things up and increase viewing figures..........

If all of this sounds familiar,it certainly does now in what passes for television broadcasting in 21st Century Britain and indeed elsewhere.The predictions for mass dumbing down of TV and culture in general are uncannily and amazingly accurate, with BIG BROTHER,CASTAWAY 2000,SURVIVOR and I'M A CELEBRITY GET ME OUT OF HERE dismal examples that are very worthy of comparison.The overwrought style of presentation in such programmes is very well enacted by Vickery Turner,as is the contemptible attitudes towards TV and it's viewers by the decidedly sleazy and unlikable collection of high-drives who keep such vindictive opinions off screen.

That said,THE YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS is not without it's flaws.Kneale's ideas of the characters speaking in a kind of streamlined blank verse patois,reducing the importance of words while images take over,is interesting but becomes somewhat pretentious,and several scenes would've worked better with a degree of script editing.And as to the standards of the era,the visions of the future are outlandish and garish,with elaborately patterned shirts,the men seemingly wearing togas,and the women in over-emphatic make-up;the play was originally shot in colour but now only exists as a black and white tele-recording,which is a relief in some way as this and the predictable set designs may have been a distraction,although it isn't as much in monochrome.Some of the actors struggle with the stylised dialogue;Tony Vogel performs with permanently bulging eyes in over-the-top mode,where others seem baffled and just deliver the script in flat,monotoned style.However,despite the stately pace,Kneale successfully builds to a uncomfortable,gloomy and very effective finale,with the avarice and arrogance of the high-drives sadly coming out on top.

Still,THE YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS eerily dystopian vision of TV has regrettably all come true,and Nigel Kneale lived long enough to see such foreboding predictions,with trashy exaggeration and ugly sensationalism rather than intelligence and taste the main bywords.There's little scope for writers as peerless as Kneale to work in TV much today,as his predictions of Reality TV are all but there to see now,which makes THE YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS somewhat hard to watch,but if you care where the direction TV is now heading,absolutely essential.

RATING:7 and a half out of 10.
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Great,elegiac Documentary Short
10 November 2011
Though not quite an example of the British ''Free Cinema'' movement,Michael Grigsby's 'TOMORROW'S Saturday' is certainly heavily influenced by this important,influential style of filmmaking which changed the cultural outlook of British cinema for the better.

Made in the most modest of circumstances,on Bolex 16mm cameras over a period of two years in the producer's spare time,'TOMORROW'S Saturday' has a wistful,poetic quality despite the rugged aspects of late 1950's working class life in the Lancashire towns of Blackburn and Preston, beautifully filmed in locations such as noisy cotton mills,back to back terraces,cobblestone streets,football grounds and public houses.The impressionistic sound track matches perfectly with the visuals,of a lamented time and culture that has long since passed.

The said filmmakers were fed up at the time of a middle class dominated film landscape in Britain,and it was thanks to their innovative efforts that led to the British New Wave with such films as 'Saturday NIGHT AND Sunday MORNING' (some of the scenes depicted recall that most seminal and ground breaking of films which starred Albert Finney) and 'A TASTE OF HONEY' and also the TV serial 'CORONATION STREET',which all started in the early 60's which at long last dramatised working class life in Britain in an honest,realistic manner.'TOMORROW'S Saturday' has no voice over but is all the better for it,and although it may appear dated and clichéd now still comes over as fresh,fascinating and gloriously poetic of a time when working class communities thrived economically and socially before the sad demise and breaking up of the textile industry,which inevitably led to fragmented families and housing that fell victim to demolition.'TOMORROW'S Saturday' is a gem of a short documentary that deserves to be better known.
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The Alpha Caper (1973 TV Movie)
Enjoyable,Unpretentious Caper Movie
29 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
A modest TV movie from the early 70's,this commendably short and brisk caper with comedy elements is given an undoubted touch of class by having Henry Fonda in it's lead,with a venerable cast of supporting actors such as Larry Hagman,Leonard Nimoy,James MacEachin,John Marley,Noah Beery and Woodrow Palfrey.

The plot is standard,generic caper fare;a disillusioned Fonda,who alternates between security and parole officer,is given short shrift by his employer while approaching retirement and plans a gold bullion robbery with several criminals on his watch (Hagman,Nimoy,MacEachin) all the while keeping an eye on his security superior (Marley).

There's little reason why Fonda decides to plan such an elaborate robbery plan,and not much room for in depth characterisation or high production values,but nevertheless,THE ALPHA CAPER is a very enjoyable and often amusing time passer,with a well-detailed heist,some decent suspense,an easy-going script and likable performances.Despite the crooked behaviour on board,no one is really evil and certainly not violent,and although the plot inevitably takes predictable turns, you end up with a smile on your face at the end after a very pleasant hour and a quarter's entertainment,with some memorable and very funny moments included,best of all Fonda being presented with a gold watch at his retirement party!

THE ALPHA CAPER was modest in it's intentions (as most TV movies are), but is unexpectedly a notch or two up than normal fare of this kind thanks to it's cast and above average script and direction.

RATING:7 out of 10.
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I Confess (1953)
7/10
Below-Par Hitchcock is still better than Below-Par almost everyone else
22 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
One of Alfred Hitchcock's lesser known and least celebrated works,I CONFESS still has a great deal of merit,owing more to Hitchcock's peerless craftsmanship than for it's somewhat obvious plot and script.

Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift) hears a confession from a church worker he knows,Keller (OE Hasse) that he has just killed a man.The man in question was apparently blackmailing Logan over an affair he was having with a married woman (Anne Baxter) before he entered the clergy.After confessing the affair to the police and admitting she is still in love with him,the police now point to Logan as their main suspect,but the priest refuses to divulge details of Keller's confession as befits the rules of the Catholic Church,knowing all the time it would clear him on suspicion of murder.

I CONFESS' main saving grace is it's unusual location (Quebec,Canada), and the stylish,noirish lighting used by Hitchcock and his regular photographer Robert Burks.Hitchcock was not always the greatest advocate of location filming,and although there's some obvious symbolism of the Catholic Church employed (Hitchcock himself was raised in the faith), the cobbled streets and old-world style charm of the city is atmospherically used and gives the film an extra added sheen and quality that is much needed related to it's other elements.The plot itself is a hoary old chestnut with expected complications and developments,with a predictable love story included.Told in flashback with slow motion and a heavenly choir for good measure,one isn't sure whether or not Hitchcock meant the sequence to be serious or a downright parody,falling in between two stools.The tone is very earnest and the pacing is rather over-methodical,with very little humour and an often stilted,lumbering script.Clift is rather stolidly over-earnest as the accused clergyman,and the unremarkable machinations of the story don't lead to much excitement or suspense.Miss Baxter and Hasse are merely adequate in their roles whereas Roger Dann and Dolly Haas are somewhat better as the respective spouses,and the best performance comes from the ever-reliable Karl Malden as the by-the-book Inspector Larrue,though as with virtually every other character,his part is somewhat under-developed.

Hitchcock himself apparently had little time for I CONFESS, calling it 'heavy handed and lacking in humour'.That is mostly true,though there was only so much he could add to such an over-familiar storyline as this.But what he did manage still turns I CONFESS into a watchable if disappointing and minor work in his filmography,though with interesting enough touches and directorial style obtaining mileage out of a story and script that with most other directors would've been generic and very routine.

RATING:6 and a half out of 10.
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8/10
Influential British New Wave drama that broke down barriers
27 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" was at the time a fresh,innovative opus about the British working class that had previously been stereotyped and patronised by the public school,middle class dominated domestic cinema.Time has inevitably diminished it's impact,but it still remains a raw,no-nonsense,gritty and utterly absorbing slice of life with a sharp script,well-judged direction,excellent cinematography and a fine cast topped by an outstanding,star-making lead performance by Albert Finney.

Arthur Seaton (Finney),a lathe operator at Nottingham's Raleigh Bicycle factory,is disillusioned with his humdrum life and surroundings,and compensates for the boredom with his rebellion against all kinds of authority,drunken weekends,his affair with a married woman,Brenda (Rachel Roberts) while courting the younger Doreen (Shirley Anne Field).Brenda becomes pregnant and Arthur tries to assist in having the baby aborted,but after being beaten up by some of Brenda's in-laws,seems to settle for conventional married life with Doreen on a new housing estate.

The events described are pretty mild by modern standards,but this was startling and unprecedented for the late 50's/early 60's,as was the behaviour of it's working class anti-hero.As brilliantly portrayed by Finney,Arthur Seaton is a boorish,boozy,amoral,lying,selfish reprobate, yet audiences then and still do empathised with all the frustrations,disappointments and anger of a character who was prepared to rebel wholeheartedly against convention and his depressing lot.It is a tribute to Finney that he makes such a surly,unlikable,anti-social character as this oddly sympathetic,adding touches of warmth and humour while delivering some memorable lines written by Alan Sillitoe.Director Karel Reisz was admittedly from a patrician,public school background,but Finney (Salford) and Sillitoe (Nottingham), used experience of their humble backgrounds to great artistic advantage, which influenced many others from similar beginnings to express themselves artistically in years to come.The authentic locations are immaculately lensed by Freddie Francis,adding a kind of poetic realism that French cinema would be proud of,with fine acting work all round by Roberts,Field,Norman Rossington,Hylda Baker (better known for her comedy but giving a fine straight performance here),Bryan Pringle and others.

The influence of"Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" cannot be denied enough,bringing forth a new,more realistic if not compassionate view of the British working classes,with warts and all,and allowing new acting,writing and directing talent to express itself to the fore after years of stuffiness and stultification.Other New Wave films were to follow (A TASTE OF HONEY,LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER,etc) and CORONATION STREET,still going after half a century,began on TV not long after with it's depictions of Northern working class life becoming an extraordinary success, but it is to this film, and talents like Karel Reisz,Alan Sillitoe and Albert Finney, that the breaking down of such barriers began, and that made it possible that realism in film could be every bit if not more entertaining than escapism.

RATING:8 and a half out of 10.
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Carnaby, M.D. (1966)
6/10
Acceptable Comic Fluff from the 60's
6 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
DOCTOR IN CLOVER is another in the series of British "Doctor" films from the books by Richard Gordon.It was of course never meant to be a cinematic masterwork,and in essence is not much different than the "Carry On" series that was running parallel to this at the time,with smut,innuendo and slapstick laid on like a trowel.The plot is basically just a series a loosely connected incidents and sketches surrounding the amorous adventures of would-be Casanova Dr.Gaston Grimsdyke (Leslie Phillips) and his familiar conflicts with chief surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt (James Robertson Justice).Inevitably the results of such desultory events are very hit and miss,though one or two surprisingly come off quite well and are helped by a cast of venerable British comedy performers (Joan Sims,Eric Barker,Alfie Bass,Bill Kerr,Fenella Fielding,Norman Vaughan,Terry Scott,Harry Fowler,etc.), some featured in mere cameos, but others in more substantial roles.Phillips isn't too bad as the ageing roué, but most plaudits go to the pompously patrician Justice, who provides most of the best moments.And it's also nice to see some amusing diversions from Arthur Haynes, a now mostly and unjustly forgotten comedian whose untimely death in middle age around the time of the film's release robbed the UK of a much loved TV comic performer, with this being a rare but welcome foray on the big screen.As a relative of Phillips also working in the same hospital, John Fraser struggles to make any kind of comic impact, as does German-French actress Elisabeth Ercy, a pretty but entirely vacuous screen presence which makes it all the more inexplicable that Phillips should spend and waste virtually all of the film's running time pursuing her.

The film's highlight is a (fairly) wild party scene, augmented by the addition of laughing gas and Justice losing his inhibitions after being accidentally injected by Phillips with a concoction that gives him the frisky sensation of youth again.These scenes have a certain likability around them,and contain the only real vestiges of warmth that were exchanged between Phillips and Justice in this series, with Spratt even rather charmingly calling Grimsdyke "Grimmy" on several occasions.

Virtually all of the gags and one-liners on show in the film are generic and hackneyed,with some crude slapstick thrown in-between, though as said before, the reliable comic actors featured manage a few decent chuckles helping to disguise the weakness of the story and script, and Justice has the film's best line after the morning after hangover following the party at home from his bed, asserting to Phillips: "I feel like my head's been trepanned by a boat hook!".

DOCTOR IN CLOVER is an undemanding,easy-going time-passer,never reaching any comic heights but a nostalgia fest for those who like occasionally to go back to less PC comic standards like those of the mid-60's, with pleasant sets and photography,and featured songs by the young Kiki Dee as a bonus.

RATING:5 and a half out of 10.
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7/10
Grim,Brutal,but Compelling Crime Drama
24 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
ACROSS 110th STREET is remembered more nowadays for it's title track which was used in Tarantino's Blaxploitation homage JACKIE BROWN in 1997 (though the version used in the eponymous film is markedly different).This is somewhat a disservice to the original as it is in many ways a top notch example of it's kind (but not without flaws).

Three black petty thieves (two disguised as cops) stumble across a mafia/Harlem gang deal worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,though the opportunist raid goes disastrously wrong,with it's main protagonist Jim Harris (Paul Benjamin) mowing down five gangsters and one policeman,with another later dying from his injuries.As well as being pursued by the mob,the police are also hot on the raiders' trail,with a veteran Italian-American Captain (Anthony Quinn) at odds with a young, articulate,liberal,well educated black Lieutenant (Yaphet Kotto).

Scarcely anyone comes off sympathetically in ACROSS 110th STREET.Harlem itself is shown in its grittiest,dirtiest,most squalid glory,all seedy apartment blocks,junk infested alleys,seedy nightclubs and bars,and dreary,ugly functional business and police buildings,with it's cynical,brutalised,racist,downtrodden,often sadistic characters on opposite sides of the law.Underrated director Barry Shear brilliantly captures such an unrelenting milieu in often cramped,claustrophobic surroundings,with hand held cameras and what seems merely natural light. It's violence is never glamorised,being savage and chaotic with horrific consequences for it's victims with zero hopes for redemption or happiness.The performances are uniformly good,with a decent script providing insight for deeper than usual characterisations in films of this sort,with Anthony Franciosa, Kotto and even Quinn (thankfully avoiding his Zorba-style tendencies here) giving honest,realistic portrayals.As the small-time crook turned mass killer,Paul Benjamin incredibly manages to make such a character as disreputable as this oddly sympathetic (Kotto is just about the only other character on show with any redeeming features), with a powerful speech which all too readily describes the plight of many uneducated,disabled blacks in areas like this in the US.And Antonio Fargas is a long way from the wisecracking,jive-talking,affable stool pigeon Huggy Bear that he would memorably portray in STARSKY AND HUTCH a few years later on TV,as one of the doomed raiders who is sadistically tortured and murdered by the vicious psychopathic hit-man Franciosa.

For all it's praiseworthy qualities though,ACROSS 100th STREET is a film that is to be respected and appreciated,but not liked.It's tone is admirably realistic (along with authentic Harlem locations),but utterly humourless and often repellent because of this.The relentless tension from virtually the first shot is superbly marshaled by Shear, though this often sits uneasily with the equally uncompromising atmosphere of despair and pessimism,which reduces the entertainment value and a feeling of disappointment by the film's conclusion,which predictably ends on a downbeat note,though it thankfully never lurches into outright melodrama.

Nevertheless despite it's flaws,ACROSS 110th STREET is an undervalued urban thriller of the early 70's which deserves reappraisal,and is much more than mere Blaxsploitation fodder,being more thoughtful,socially aware and better written than most subjects of said genre,in the midst of it's often harrowing and unrelenting violence.

RATING:7 and a half out of 10.
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The Detective (1968)
6/10
Well-acted but Dated,Depressing Crime Drama
8 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
When it was first released in 1968,THE DETECTIVE was very daring in it's use of 'adult' themes such as homosexuality,nymphomania and questionable police practices,but time has taken it's toll and it has inevitably since been well outclassed in the particular above fields,further weakened by a welter of sub-plots (not helped by somewhat confusing flashbacks),and unconvincing,over-emphatic production values.

By-the-book cop Joe Leland (Frank Sinatra) investigates the murder of a young gay man of a well-to-do family,while also trying to negotiate his way through police and local authority corruption,and having difficulties with his disturbed,nymphomaniac wife (Lee Remick) whose life has been marred by a rootless,unhappy childhood through the foster care system.Leland apparently finds the gay killer (Tony Musante), and observes his execution shortly afterwards, but a young widow (Jacqueline Bisset) of a wealthy businessman (William Windom) provides evidence that suggests to Leland that the case is not all as it seems.

To be fair to THE DETECTIVE,it was breaking new ground at the time in it's storyline and subject matter in mainstream US film-making.And the acting involved is consistently pretty good.Sinatra is fine as a cynical,world-weary cop who has been there and seen it all,but still possesses a distinct moral integrity,whether it be fury at the often violent,bigoted attitudes of his colleagues,anger at local authority financial corruption at the expense of those who live in 'garbage cans',or heartbreak at the sexually loose behaviour of his wife Remick,leading to the destruction of his marriage.Ms Remick herself is also excellent in her relatively underwritten role,making us feel sympathy for the tragic,rather pathetic events in childhood that led to such severe adult psychological torments.Other performers like Jack Klugman,a similarly liberal-inclined colleague of Frank's,and Robert Duvall,as a wrathful,boorish associate,are perfectly adequate,but are all eventually affected by the sheer excess of heated characters and melodrama which seriously teeter on the edge of unintended farce.

The slow,methodical pace engendered by Gordon Douglas,along with Sinatra's admirable underplaying, just about curtails the film from going into over-the-top stupidity,but it's a close run thing,with rampantly stereotyped homosexuals,garishly decorated gay bars,and an overly strident performance by Tony Musante as the thuggish would-be gay killer which showed that US film-making had a long way to go in portraying homosexuality in a more realistic and compassionate light.The naivety and and ham-fistedness in THE DETECTIVE regarding these matters is quite something to see nowadays,though of course what was realistic and daring 40 years ago shows what has been learned by us all since then.Douglas' other traits of direction have also badly dated (like full on close-ups of characters' in conversation), but what really drags the film down is the almost total lack of any humorous relief.Actors like Sinatra,Klugman,Remick et al are capable comic actors when given the chance,but the solemn,portentous,po-faced script gives them no opportunities whatsoever,which is a shame as shards of humour may have enhanced the drama involved and not made it come across as excessively melodramatic.

THE DETECTIVE now seems an mildly interesting period piece,made at a time just before US movies became more permissive with the use of profanity and depictions of sexual acts and graphic violence.It may have actually benefited from being made several years later with such freedoms;as it is,THE DETECTIVE now seems oddly repressed,ingenuous,slick and unrealistic,saved just about by some decent,persuasive performances at it's centre.

RATING:6 out of 10.
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